by Jim and Melanie
We grew up, and continue to live, in the upper midwest not far from the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. We have seen many references around the region of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa to the travels of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet. They are well-known as the first white men to explore the upper part of the Mississippi River in 1673. They were commissioned by Louis, comte de Frontenac, governor of New France, to find the direction and the mouth of the Mississippi.
The two set out from St. Ignace with five men and two canoes. They traveled the upper part of Lake Michigan and entered Green Bay, where they paddled up the Fox River nearly to its headwaters. A short portage of only about two miles put them into the Wisconsin River. The city of Portage, WI is now at that site. The Wisconsin River carried them to the Mississippi at what is now the town of Prairie du Chien. We have visited that town a couple of times.
The Mississippi River carried them south just past the mouth of the Arkansas River, where they decided to stop. They were warned of white men with guns farther south. They were Spanish, and the Marquette-Jolliet party feared a conflict. The explorers headed back up the Mississippi. North of St. Louis they took a shorter alternate route along the Illinois River. They portaged over the land in what is now the Chicago region to get back onto Lake Michigan. They split up near Green Bay, where Marquette stayed to rest. Jolliet continued back to Canada to report of their discoveries. This map illustrates their long journey.